Genderanalysis drug use among women: A study on gender and illicit drug use in clubs and at raves in Brussels and Flanders

Research Period

1 January 2004 - 31 December 2007


University of Ghent



Key Words

use patterns, women


This ethnographic study on female drug use in clubs and at raves in Flanders and Brussels was inspired by the ‘normalisation’ thesis on illicit drug use and feminist critiques on the absence and stigmatisation of female drug users in scientific studies. Traditional pitfalls in making ‘gender’ operational in research methodologies concern ‘generalisation’ on the one hand (when ‘gender’ is reduced to ‘biological sex’) and ‘fragmentation’ on the other (results are limited to a description of individual gendered experiences. To overcome this dilemma this study follows a tradition inspired by critical and cultural theories. When using drugs, people need social identification or justification for their actions. When evaluating the ‘normality’ of drug use, or any other human action, we apply cultural notions of normal behaviours and relations like gender, class and ethnicity. Therefore drug use is seen as an action that takes place in a social context of institutional structures and rules. These historically grown structures and rules, express cultural ideals on gender, class en ethnic relations and normal behaviour in ‘social roles’, which in their turn are negotiated in social encounters or interactions with other people, especially friends. Because it is easier to get justification from like-minded people this study takes into account differences in cultural orientation. Because of the ethnographic nature of the study it will not be possible to generalise this information or to make a scientifically acceptable comparison, but this is not our goal. The reason for this differentiation lies in the possibility it provides to illustrate how differences in (cultural) interests and intentions influence ‘the making of gender through illicit drug use’, although the institutional context (western night life) is the same.

Valorisation: publications and lectures

  • VANDER ELST, D. (2009). Vrouwelijk druggebruik in scène gezet. Een gendergevoelige analyse van druggebruik bij vrouwen in Electronic Dance Music Scenes, Doct. Diss. Criminologie, Universiteit Gent. (Openbare verdediging 24 januari 2010)
  • VANDER ELST, D. (2008),Illegaal druggebruik in electronic-dancescenes bekeken door een genderbril. In DEMOOR, M., VANDENBUSSCHE, L., VANDERMASSEN, G. & VAN DURME, D. (eds.), Verslagen van het UG-centrum voor Genderstudies nr. 17. Gent: Academia Press.
  • VANDER ELST, D. (2008). Normalisering van druggebruik, bekeken door een genderbril. Paper presented at the 17° genderforum van  het Centrum voor Genderstudies, Gent (Belgium).
  • VANDER ELST, D. (2007). Self- and social control on the dance-floor: cultural relations and illicit drug use in the making. Paper presented at the Seminarie van de Toxicological Society of Belgium and Luxemburg, Echternach (Luxemburg), 29 september 2007.
  • VANDER ELST, D. (2007), Methodological implications of a cultural perspective on 'doing gender through illicit drug use'. Presentation at the 18th ESSD Conference, Krakow (Polen), 11-13 oktober 2007.
  • VANDER ELST, D. (2006), Normalisation and the decline of sex differences in drug use: is the study of gender still relevant? Presentation at the Common Session on Criminal Justice and Critical Criminology, Ghent (Belgium), 6-8 November 2006.
  • VAN DER ELST, D. (2004), Gendered figures on drug use in Flanders. Presentation at the 15th ESSD Conference, München (Duitsland), 13-15 oktober 2004.